The latest contribution to our series of guest posts, What’s the Most Important Thing You’ve Learned About Cycling?, comes from South Carolina biker Aaron West. He’s only been on two wheels for nine months, but he’s blown past my accomplishments with a single-minded determination to achieve a lofty goal. Here’s his story:
A year ago I was a broken man. Literally. I had been active for about two years, had lost a good bit of weight, and then suffered a running injury that shut me down completely. It was crushing. I remember going to the gym, trying to do anything to get my heart rate up, only to leave in pain and frustration 15 minutes later. After a couple weeks of this, I decided to dip into my savings and buy a bike. That opened up a whole new world to me.
Getting on the bike was a major learning experience and it took me awhile to get the hang of it. I rode by myself for awhile at a safe location with little traffic. I was still injured, but the bike rarely caused unnecessary pain. In fact, it seemed to help me rehabilitate. As I became more comfortable with the bike, I started to feel better and gradually increased my mileage.
I’ll never forget the first time I decided to try a “long ride,” which back then was 25 miles. That was my milestone, farther than I had ever ridden before. I mapped out the course, and pushed myself for 20 miles at around 13 mph before having to take a break. I was wiped out, dripping sweat, my butt hurt and an isolated park bench looked like paradise. After 30 minutes of rest, I got back on the bike and gutted out the remaining five miles, making sure to only stay on flat or downhill roads. What is amazing is that this ride was just nine months ago.
Over the fall I did more and more rides. The highlight was the Tour de Leaves in Tryon, NC. I went with the easiest of the organized rides, which did not go over any mountains but compared to the flats where I live, was a challenging, hilly course. This was my first “group ride” and taught me a lot of lessons. I remember drafting off a nice lady unintentionally and she got a little mad at me. Of course I didn’t have the fitness level then to “pull” anyone, including myself. Even though this ride was also a struggle, I pushed and made it, feeling exuberant for completing such a daunting challenge.
Fast forward a few months later — I was still a beginning rider, but had learned a few things from riding with a cycling club through my office. By that point my longest ride was 55 miles and my average speed was around 14-15 mph on the flats. At this time I was feeling a little more confident in my abilities.
One of the seasoned riders sent out a challenge for members of the club to participate in the Assault on Mount Mitchell ride for 2011. Not knowing what I was getting into, I threw my name in the hat. I later discovered that Mount Mitchell is the highest mountain in the Eastern United States. This is a 103-mile ride with over 11,000 feet of climbing. I remember my shock after watching a few YouTube videos and seeing how people in impeccable shape struggled and failed this challenge. What in the world did I get myself into?
Not wanting to back down and especially not wanting to hurt myself, I started training. I did a lot of reading, watched what I ate, and made sure to ride as much as I could over the winter (which wasn’t much). I also upgraded my bike and now have something that is better at climbing.
Ray asked us to share what we have learned from cycling. For me, it’s this: ANYONE CAN DO IT! I only needed the proper training and motivation. My incentive came to me by accident (and ignorance), but it didn’t have to. Cycling is a great sport because progress can be made by simply continuing to ride. The more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.